Saturday, December 31, 2011


Every year for the last few years, I have picked a Sankalpa/intention word on New Year's Eve.
Or, I should say, it often picks me.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Homage to Bass

 (image is mine - my brother Alex Hall used it as the cover for his EP of the same name)

The chances of me waking up, getting out of the shower, coming home and hearing Bass are very strong. If Dylan's in a good music mood and willing to chug out the beats, this is what will greet me. The funny part is that this has been a likely opportunity since I was thirteen, not just in the last five years.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Retire the Firefighter

This is my new mantra.

There's a head chief in my head.* A Head Honcho Who Wears the Waterproof Poncho. Big Chief in Charge of Charring. Master of all Burning Ceremonies. This Firefighter thinks that things are always going wrong, finding fires where there are none, or trying to put out someone else's fires. Enough.

Monday, December 12, 2011


Last night I dreamt of reconciliation.

Impossible reconciliation. A chance to be with my mom, for us to understand each other once and for all, not without human error, not perfectly, but to really see each other eye to eye.

She's dead, so at least for the reciprocity part, that's not possible.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Body Fear and Safety

There is nothing scarier to me than going to a new gym or fitness or yoga class.

Ok. Maybe I could rank it up there with having a gun pointed at my face or almost dying in a car accident. However, these are less frequent and less likely. Also, I don't put myself in those situations.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Questions I Can Answer

Sometimes, having a spouse who is going through a gender transition (male to female) is a lot.
Sometimes, teaching people how to be there for themselves, how to be aware and in the moment, and how to practice art that takes them there, is a lot.
Sometimes running my own business(es) and traveling for work is a lot.

This is not a surprise, of course, that I get overwhelmed.
But when all of these a lots and more come to fruition at once, I turn to ... Crossword puzzles.

That's right. You thought I was going to say meditation, didn't you? Or yoga. Or walking, or writing, or drawing or reading dharma or eating good food or getting plenty of sleep. Or talking to friends.

Yes. Those are all helpful, essential. They are my "first lines of defense" or even better, of "non-defense."

But sometimes the empowerment I need is to be able to cleverly answer questions, especially when they are puns. To have AHA moments that I can actually access when everything appears to be (and when it needs to remain) made of mysteries my intellect cannot and should not discern.

That's when Crossword Puzzles are the answer.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Letter from Dallas

Letter From Dallas

People in cars.
People in cars ask me
what am I doing, walkin'
"Is it true what they say about redheads?"
"Oh, I didn't mean anything by askin'. I just wanted to know what you were photographin.'"
"Cotton ain't cool, it's hot, baby. You should be wearin' fewer clothes."

I don't feel vulnerable
walking at home
walking in places I don't know
at night.
But here I am exposed.
Even in layers of clothes
I apparently shouldn't be wearing
though I am plenty comfortable in this
second summer
nothing like the autumn falling in Wisconsin.

In the North Dallas suburb that is my temporary home
my hosts are warm
my work on fire
my perspiration tumbles into the pool.
Once inside the walls of buildings
I can open up.
But outside
the late summer questioning

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Credit Where Credit is Due

(The photo is of a stack of books on my desk awaiting my entry into various documents I call "quotes to use for __" [fill in the blank specific book or teaching project]. I have a whole set of online interviews/documents I also keep in files for use in teaching/writing...)

Yesterday, a student who does both academic and non-academic writing and publishing mentioned that she's taking a short course at the university about how to use Endnote so it can do all of your attribution and bibliographing for you. For a long time now, I have suspected (since I graduated from college in 2000) that there must be programs that could do these things for me - help me find quotes (yes, I already use Google Library and even Amazon at times), attribute them, sort them.

I read. A LOT. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

a few sounds take me there

a poem came to me while doing yoga this morning...

a few sounds take me there

chickadee dee dee turns into
the twits of
bats on a cool fall evening -
the impermanence
of sonar.

i cannot sleep
up like the cicadas
long after midnight
long into when the day
has finally cooled
off enough to rest
so i rest.
all my tiny children inside
curled up under the creaking tree
of me now
awake into the wee

i only know i have slept
because at some point i wake
and think:
those were only dreams, sweetie,
that place never existed -
where he touched me -
that time is outside time.
but then i realize before i went to sleep
i was awake
very awake
and knew full well
what was happening--
the crickets
my witnesses.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Clean House

About two hours ago, I just couldn't take it anymore.

In some ways it feels like our house hasn't been cleaned in months. Of course, my in-laws did a great job (especially considering cat illness and dischord) while were gone in Europe. But even before then we started a room-moving project that was left half done and meant that, for instance, my shrine room had two more pieces of furniture in it than usual and piles of things meant to get stored away, you know, when we got the chance.

That was two months ago.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Heart Connection

Missing my posts?
Try, for now, visiting
herspiral's photostream on Flickr.
A quick update so you can see more photos from Rotterdam. So much to write about, with classes now in their second week for the fall, and so little time. Here's hoping that photos will say some hundreds of words, at least.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Old Age, Sickness and Death

One of our cats has been sick for almost a month now.

It's scary and hard - he's only four years old, but we got him when he was about one and had been living on the streets, literally. Friends of ours rescued him, and he's a super cat - snuggly if jittery, soft and affectionate. I named him "Drala" which is Tibetan for "above aggression" which is used to mean "Magic." He's definitely his name in all uses.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Reflections at Pewitt's Nest 

Underneath the grave skies flashing occasional white space
My face fills up my own reflection

Mirror Mirror on the river
Who is the most alive of us all?

When someone dies, they take the present moment with them
A chunk of it lost forever, uncontinued
Without perception
One less person to help keep this clumsily constructed world
Rolling forward

My memories are buried alive
As are everyone else's - gravestones flagging
The fields of living just beyond our daily walls

They add to the past - a collection now so vast
That cemeteries have overcome cities

Death has certainly overcome me
From memory to memory creeping closer as I age
More in the cache, more fading away
Fewer years ahead, the present more potent
Poignant seconds

I line up my camera, frame the shot:
An acorn cap, a yellowed leaf, a rotted log
Everything in its place, liquid, lucid, beautiful
As I snap, the dead frog
I did not think I saw
Reveals itself to me
A moment of not memory
A moment of pure existence
Witnessing the split second dissolution
Of every other thought

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Down Time

I find that when I am left to my own devices, I don't interact much with people.

I would categorize myself as relatively extroverted, or would have, since I have strong interaction skills and enjoy - thrive even - off interacting with others. However, I have come to understand that my state of rest and recoup is to be alone - alone even without Dylan. To putter, read, write, meditate, do yoga, walk, photograph. If this state goes ignored too long - if I am traveling and always a guest, teaching a lot, or "busy" with work (a student of mine prefers and suggests using the word "full", which I appreciate), I get cranky and funky and my ability to socially interact shuts down. This is my self's way of reminding me that I have limited resources, though mine are higher than most folks I know. I have to take that down time before it takes me down with it.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Fragments of Language

Rotterdam, August 2011

Aaron Siskind, Abstract Expressionist photographer extraordinaire, published a collection of his works called Fragmentation of Language in 1997. In it, he explores what it is to receive seeming messages from the visual world of cluttered ads and graffiti, sometimes even torn or ripped non-verbal messages, or rust in calligraphic form. It is one of my favorite collections, as I am drawn to photographing this stuff myself.

I am in Rotterdam right now. It's a city that lives under the shadow of Amsterdam, the far more famous coffee shop and canal-ridden other big Netherlands city. I've been to Amsterdam before - it's quaint and enjoyable. But we have friends in Rotterdam, and Dylan and I are both fascinated by modern architecture. Rotterdam got flattened by a fire stemmed from a 15 minute German bombing in WWII, so the whole center of town is new. Brand new. New like a lot of Eastern Berlin is. Cranes everywhere, still in progress. Old and new right next to one another, and the new here is very powerful to look at - cubed buildings, special skyscrapers with nicknames like "The Apple" and "The Pencil." Photos will follow on Flickr (herspiral) of course.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


"I am sorry I was so cranky earlier, sweetie."

Dylan hugs me and kisses the crook of my neck.
"That's ok. I mean, thank you but I understand."
And a tiny voice inside says "No, it's not ok." (This is common  - I can never apologize enough)
But then the tiny voice says "It's not ok that you are cranky with me." (Not common)

That tiny voice isn't talking to Dylan.
That tiny voice is me, talking to me.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Grammar Exposures

How we write is often far more telling than what we write.

I am, of course, speaking mostly of rough drafts. While it is true - and in fact, Natalie Goldberg encourages us to look closely at the structure of each book, article, essay and story we read, noticing the organization of the writer's mind - that a finished product does show us something about the person who wrote it, there's nothing like a rough draft (hint: often emails are rough drafts) to show us what is really going on, if we know what to look for.

In Listening In, I note that we can listen/read for shifts such as:
-Change in tense (piece was in past tense, now is in present tense)
-Change in Point of View (you told the piece in second person, now he is telling it in third person)
-Change in tone of voice/in voice (at first it is very instructional, then suddenly I am confessing things)
-Change in form (from poetry to prose, from journal to essay, etc)
-Sudden resistance (this sucks, I don't know why I am writing this, I am bored)

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Writing On The Surface of a Lake

Never to be wrong
Never to make promises that break
It's like singing in the wind
Or writing on the surface of a lake
And I wriggle like a fish caught on dry land
And I struggle to avoid any help at hand

-Sting, "Still My Beating Heart"

We finalized our plans to go to Europe today. Four days with my godparents June and Bruce south of London, four days with friends in Rotterdam, four days teaching Miksang in London. A day each way of travel. That's a fortnight, as June says, and it "goes quickly." The disappointment in her voice, to only have us a third of the trip (and the evenings of teaching) was slight - she's British and pragmatic. I realize I have put off calling her because *I* am disappointed. I wish we could go longer, and yet, I don't want to be away from home longer. I consoled her (I told myself, but I was consoling myself) that this is only the beginning - I will be back to teach, this is just the start of programming for London and they will bring me back.

Only she and her husband, Bruce, are in their 80's.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Innocent Misunderstandings

Marriage, plus two thought-provoking blog posts thoroughly unrelated to each other, have me thinking about what it means to mis/understand, especially: When is it innocent?

A couple of nights ago, I started what seemed to me to be an innocent and quick discussion.

"We need to get this Air Conditioning thing figured out," I said. What did I mean by that? At first I truly thought I meant "we," but later, Dylan pointed out that I actually meant "you." So the innocent misunderstanding (or not so innocent?) started within myself, as some kind of crossed wires or self-deception.

Of course, I don't have to tell anyone who's been in a long-term relationship what happens next. All kinds of underlying goop, crap that's been free-floating, and our relationship is (luckily) free of a lot of this kind of stuff. 

Saturday, July 02, 2011

All The Ways We Apologize

“I’m sorry.” My mother warned me when I was little to never say this more than was necessary. “If you say it when you don’t really mean it, you won’t mean it when you really do.” In particular, she was vigilant about warding off apologies for non-apology situations – saying “I’m sorry” when you bump into someone in the store (“Say Excuse Me,” she corrected), saying “I’m sorry” when you are actually being sarcastic (put a peri-menopausal mother and a lone teen daughter together in a house and you get that one a lot) and “I’m sorry” when you are trying to be sympathetic (“I’m sorry is for when you are taking responsibility,” she would intone, “not empathizing”).

Thursday, June 30, 2011

So long, farewell, Auf wiedersehen, good night

So that's it.

My weekly contemplative writing classes ended last night - the end of an eight-week session, the end of the "school year." I'll begin again the last week in August. When I first started out my teacher suggested that I offer a "summer break" to students. People travel a lot, and then that also gives me some time off. I take off all the major holidays, plus a week or two between eight-week sessions, but there's nothing like a bit of summer to slow down, open up and find space and inspiration for the next season of teaching.

Friday, June 17, 2011


I have noticed that dialogues in my head are changing. For a few years now, since finding the book Born to Win and exploring Transactional Analysis on my own, I’ve become more aware and able to distinguish the people inside me who direct a lot of my decisions. For instance, though there are more than these three: there’s my father, or some reduced version of my father, who says strict things and orders me to do them. There’s an inner child of four or so who understands little but likes to play; there’s an inner child of eight who understands a LOT but is stuck on her version of the stories.

The eight-year-old is my storyteller, my spinner.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Talking to Myself

It's hot. Humid. Gross.
Weather that belongs to July, appearing in June.
I grew up in this state, but I get worse with it every year, and every year it gets worse.

Combine that with depression, and me=mess.

After a blow of financial news about things we have to do with the house and things we want to do, I found myself, yep, frozen this afternoon: cranky, overwhelmed, unable to function. This morning I read and tweeted about a useful kind of broken; this kind isn't. Lock down.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Actions Actually DO Speak Louder Than Words

...which feels ironic to write in words...

I'm not dumb. I know there's an inherent conflict in even writing about how I have experienced, more and more, that statement to be true, that age-old adage:
Actions Speak Louder Than Words.

I just can't get over how true it is, perhaps because I listen to, write, and share so many words every day, all the time. Reading books, articles, blogs; writing manuscripts, poems, essays, emails; listening to raw writings, soulful conversations and even the radio. I often say my classes are so that we know that not everything arises in finished form - that a good, solid start from the heart is necessary for clear writing, but of course when all we read is finished product, we think all the fineries - great editing, structural reconsiderations, etc, should come, too, in the first draft. I say a lot of smart and insightful things, and I even believe some of them, truly, deeply. Words are awfully sexy and wise.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lies and Survival

"Did you ever lie to survive when you were younger?" she asked.

We were talking about our families, about our parents in particular: what was hidden, what was shared. I instantly sprang to a part of my life I felt super uncomfortable sharing for decades, but have, in the process of writing my memoir, finally "outed" and been able to talk about without shame. It wasn't lying *to* my family, it was lying *about* my family, sort of.

When my father died we had no funeral. There were many cards from students and co-workers (he was a beloved instructor at a local small tech college). Many calls. But no responses from our family (see: my mother, lost in grief) and certainly no funeral or wake. I didn't really know what those were like - my maternal grandmother had died when I was a little kid, and we had buried her at our cabin, where everyone's ashes got buried. No service, just a burial - maybe we weren't even there when our grandfather put her in the ground.

So it didn't strike me as odd. Didn't strike me as needed or even healthy to have a service. It was normal, you know, what was known, in my family's culture.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For

In the Summer 2011 issue of Writers Ask, a quarterly publication of Glimmer Train Stories, Armand ML Inezian notes “Oh sure, there are writers who sound very humble, but you have to have some kind of ego to get through all the rejections.” This is at the end of an interview in which he states there are two kinds of successful writers – the people who “win the lottery” and those who stick with it diligently over time, “like a glacier, slowly scouring the earth, and moving ever toward the horizon.”
Having a spouse who is transgender is great practice in this regard. This morning, she said to me “I realize that at some point I will have no control (due to hormones) over how I present myself, gender-wise. I often feel like everything is moving so slowly, way slower than I want, then, I realize, it is all beyond my control. It’s a little like that saying ‘Be careful what you wish for…’ – I want to be a woman, but secretly I am a little scared of it, or want to have more control over the process. Not quicker or just the way I want it at each moment, which is impossible.”
Our relationship to change and to fame, even to downfalls – to life overall - is very, very similar. Of course, at base, everyone wants to be recognized, observed, appreciated for who we actually are. But there’s a lot of mixed information covering that ideal – sometimes we don’t know who we are, or don’t like who we think we are. Sometimes we self-sabotage, which is both under our control and not under our control, and sometimes, as hard as we try, the world seems not to respond.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

What Am I Yoked To?

1. (Noun) A crossbar with two U-shaped pieces that encircle the necks of a pair of oxen or other draft animals working together.

2. (Noun) A frame designed to be carried across a person's shoulders with equal loads suspended from each end.

3. (Intrans. Verb) To force into heavy labor, bondage, or subjugation.

These are some of my "favorite" definitions of "yoke" from the Free Dictionary by Farlex, the first place to come up when I went to look it up online.

They are my favorite for today because I went there looking for the definition of yoke while thinking about Depression. So now, why don't you look at those definitions again...

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Cat and Mouse

"People should never die and stuff should never break."

This is what I said to Dylan this morning, while she held me, while I was softly crying while holding my "Chat et Souris" mug. It was my grandfather's, an artisan's mug, one of a kind, likely made by one of the folks he hung around with in Chicago in the 60/70's - print makers, artisans, musicians. A very formal-looking print cat and a couple of formal print mice (two cats, two mice, so the mug is both right and left-handed) stand around the saying. My grandfather, like my mother after him, spoke French and he and I would discuss things in French sometimes, and often about The French and about France. I have quite a few of his things, since he was the "last to go" - his table, which now holds my sewing machine, his Mexican blue glass collection, his general everyday mugs, and a rug or two. But this was my favorite.

Was. It broke. Last night Dylan and I were getting ready for class, which is at my house on Wednesday nights. Dylan was trying to clean things - boiled some water to get sticky honey off our table, and poured out the rest into the sink. In the sink were two things - the Chat et Souris mug, which I am always super careful about, and a dirty rice pan. I almost picked up the pan - don't know why I didn't. Maybe I thought "Ick, what a mess" and that I would take care of it last. But I was laughing with Dylan and so totally forgot, even though she had been super careful about warning me to step back and we had talked about why she was boiling water. I reached into the sink, picked up the mug and after a two second pause in which the scalding water spilled over the edge and onto my hand and nothing happened at all, I dropped it. There was a pause (likely bad for my hand) while I considered if there were ANY way I could not drop it, knowing, knowing it would break.

The pain was super intense and sudden - I spontaneously broke into tears, barely had the wherewithall to both a) announce a loud yell and alert Dylan, now out of the room and b) switch the water, which I had been using to wash on hot, to cold to run over my hand. Dylan ran in, I bawled through the burnt hand enough for her to grab an ice pack from the freezer. For an hour or two (during which I used my non-dominant hand to call and text students to cancel class) the burn ran painfully through my fingers, and even with Ibuprofen, still flared up for hours after. The only relief was ice pack.

First degree burns. Not serious, not meriting ER or Outpatient, considering we have no health insurance but catastrophic anyway. We did what I knew, from a previous bad first degree steam burn, I needed to do - ice it, ointment, ibuprofen. I fell asleep in fits and starts, my hand occasionally burning alive for a few minutes at a time.

Upon waking, dressing, making breakfast, I reached for the Chat et Souris mug like I often do in the mornings. It practically lives in the drying rack since we both use it so much, which is good. I made a choice long ago to use it - I lost my mother's wedding ring because I used to wear it, have lost numerous important earrings (including one of a set Rebecca gave to me), and more, because I used them. That's good. But hard. I worried that I had cracked the mug the night before but it looked ok - one sploosh of boiling water from same kettle and a quick glimpse inside showed a hairline crack (stunning considered I dropped it into a cast iron sink from a foot above). The water seeped through. I sniffled. Wah. Dammit.

"The mug cracked" I said to Dylan, as she was in the dining room eating breakfast. "Oh, honey." "Time to retire you," I said to the mug as I rinsed it, tried to find a place for my wet tea bag. I put it into the pottery bag I keep in the kitchen until it fills, then put it in the basement. A large collection is amassing there - one day I'll either ask a friend to make a mosaic out of my favorite dishes, or I'll do it. The bag already had one of our wedding set plates, the second to break, in it. Not a biggie: from Target, replaceable.

"We can use it for something else, even if it can't hold water," Dylan said, and I hadn't even thought of that, was grateful for the reminder, but it hurt too much to consider at the moment. Later, I did pull it out and rinse it again and set it aside to dry. She's right. She came up behind me and hugged me and I said "People should never die and stuff should never break," and cried.

All of a sudden, a counter voice:
"Sweetheart (Natalie says this a lot when addressing her critical self), Don't take it Personally." From somewhere inside my head, a voice of gentle loving reason.

Don't take it personally? Of course I am not taking it persona...
Wait a second. I am taking it personally. I feel betrayed. The mug wasn't supposed to break. I lost so many people so young, the least I could get is the mug to last. A few recent deaths flash through my head: a friend's friends 21 year old son, a few students' moms or dads, another acquaintances 31 year old sister. Shit. Hey. This happens to everyone. Not just a lot of folks, but everyone. We all die.

Now I have done a LOT of meditation on death and impermanence, read books, processed a lot of my grief. And I have said that last sentence more times than I can count in more tones of voice than I can count. But all of a sudden, there was a direct line of communication between my little girl heart and my voice of reason. I could feel my inner child look up suddenly and say "You mean, it's not my fault? Not about me? Not a betrayal?"

Of course I am NOT the only one to feel this way. Read any Pema Chodron or even standard psychology text and you'll see quickly that our expectations and beliefs are what most often trigger our shock and hurt. We, as a society, are harboring some serious self-deception about death. And yet. With all the work I had done (I say this with wonder, not judgment) there it is. A tiny piece of my heart that was still holding out, still fiercely protecting herself by pretending someone fucked up, or that something was wrong with her, or that she had been hurt on purpose, she heard the message, for the first time, for now. At first it hurt, like the burn, like a bitch. I cried, but then the voice said : "Mugs break. People die. Everything is impermanent. It's not your fault, Sweetheart," and she replied, "Thank you, Thank you."

PS: I did a quick search and found out more.
And no, I will not be buying a replacement.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


(photo from a strip mall in Dallas)

It never ceases to amaze me.
Week after week, after month, after year - seven of them now, from when I started part part time to full time and then some.

I write these prompts, and the students respond. And inevitably, most of the students will say:
"I can't believe you knew I needed to write about this."
"I wasn't even thinking about this, where did it come from?"
"Why are you making me write about this?"

The thing is, the prompts are vague/open enough that they can be interpreted lots of different ways. One student last week was sure I was demanding that she/they write about writing their own memoirs - it's the part of the prompt she could not ignore, that would not go away from her. Ditto for others that they had to talk about parts of their lives that haven't happened yet, or their favorite childhood book, or what they are reading - or not reading - right now.

Our inner impetuses, impulses, are so powerful, they take on the face of the current circumstance and recommend or reinforce what we need to hear or don't want to hear or both.
Or neither - what we don't need and don't want but won't go away.

Here is the prompt from this last week, with a follow-up list with questions that came out of students' answers. These ideas are a whole other 5 or 6 prompts in themselves.

Enjoy. See what arises for you. See if you can "blame" it on me. I'll take the blame, no problem.
So long as I get to read the results.


The original prompt

Writing and Reading

Imagine a book in front of you.

Flip through the pages, hear the sound of paper, and notice if it has a scent.

Look at the front cover, Index, Table of Contents, spine.

What is the title?

Is this book fictional or non-fictional?

A kid’s book or an adult book?

Maybe it doesn’t exist yet – it’s the book you are writing or have always wanted to read.

Perhaps you read it when you were young and no longer recall the title –

but you can remember how your heart felt when you finished it.

Take yourself to the place(s) that reading takes you, and write from there.

If you don’t enjoy reading, go into that resistance.

Feel yourself come full circle as you write, using words, to describe reading words.

I’ll let you know when your twenty minutes are up.

-Miriam Hall

If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, you must write it. ~Toni Morrison

There is creative reading as well as creative writing.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it. ~Oscar Wilde

Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures. ~Jessamyn West

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.
~Benjamin Franklin


The questions that arose out of student answers - either they gave me these questions or I derived them from their answers...

Were you read to as a child?

Were there books in your home?

Could you buy any book you wanted?

Were you dis/encouraged to read?

Were you ashamed to read?

Were books your only friends?

Did you leave books behind for boys?

Did High School, College, family life kill your love of the written and read word?

Are you still close to books?

Do you know/can you imagine what the "book of you" would look like? Written in code, plain English or Spanish, Russian?

Are you an open or closed book?

What is covered or uncovered in you?

Where does your mind go when its pages are let loose?

Does reading amazing books please you or make you angry or jealous that someone else wrote it first?

If you are writing a book, do you know what the cover would/will be?

Is a Kindle, Nook, or digital reader the same as a book?

Do you read to read?

Do you want to be read?

Do you write to have something to read or to share?

Or are reading/writing separate for you - one an affair that discounts the other?

Or in an entirely different family altogether?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Just So

(photo of Michael Amos Hall, 1960's, N. Ireland)

My father was distant, and then, he died.

Of course that is not the whole story. However, that is a big part of the story I have managed to overlook on one level or another for many years. When people ask me, especially if they have recently lost someone close to them, "Will this sadness ever end?" I gently try to say no, but it does lessen somewhat. On weeks like these, I remember what really happens: grief, like everything else, changes. That's all. Just when you think you've figured it out, it changes.

In working on my memoir, Bermuda Triangles, I have slowed down considerably, finely editing the draft to send out to a possible agent. A local friend, wonderful writer and fabulous editor, Lissa, pointed out while helping me to revise that the protagonist (me as a little girl) seems to adore her father and yet, there are no instances, nada, showing WHY. Nothing to make the reader understand why she loved her father so. She said this a few times, but I only got it myself when I began to edit parts about his sickness and death (when I was 12) - finally, it hit home, and even when it hit home, it took me a few weeks of lots of space and getting out of town to finally start to have some memories come back.

This week's class prompt is about "Reading and Writing" - favorite books, how reading relates to writing, etc. I knew it would come eventually - that I would write about reading the Just So Stories to my father when he was sick, and him correcting me repeatedly, without cease, whenever I got the slightest thing wrong.

Remember my post about him as Judge Hawthorne? Yep. So of course I knew this was a part of his personality, but as I explored those memories, I realized the only ones in which I actually think of him fondly, he is silent or speaking to someone else - a bookstore owner or musician. The negative memories? He's either not around or speaking to me - criticizing me, warning me or - yeah, not good.

There's a lot more remembering to do, and likely, some of it will be painful. But today, after writing about the Just So Stories, and then sharing it with my AM class (the first time I have ever cried throughout my whole reading of a piece during a class), I feel cleaner. Clearer. More honest. It never fails, though always feels awful getting there - knowing what is actually causing me pain is less painful than making up something else to hide it. For instance, for years I really hated my mom. Now, suddenly, on a newer level (again, I've known this before - sort of) I realize she gave me, expressed, far more love than my dad did. But I didn't want her love. I wanted his. And it was hard to get.

Without blame or shame, though with tremendous sadness, I softly explore the underbelly of the stories I have told myself for decades in order to survive. As the actual stories appear, they write themselves easily, unlike the parts in my memoir that Lissa noticed as absent, not as strong, lacking and seemingly contradictory. There was plenty that was contradictory in my childhood - my mom and I fighting for my dad's affection, at the top. But I don't need to fight myself anymore. That's a conflict I can relax. I hope. I can try, anyway.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Taxes and the Dentist

I considered whether I should put both Dentists and taxes in the title of this blog entry.
After all might avoid it, with a title like that.
However, I'm here to tell you that neither has to be as bad as you think.

"As you think" being the operative part.

Ben Franklin so famously said:
" In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."

I say: "In the world of the self-employed, nothing can be said to be certain except
taxes and medical expenses."
Self-employed taxes are high (we get charged a lot), complicated (oh the boxes of receipts to enter into the computer every March, or, eeks! April), and expensive (either pay someone to do it all for you or pay someone to check your work for you and do the paperwork yourself - pricey, regardless).
And medical expenses? A lot of the same - unless you have insurance (which, even if you have it, costs a pretty penny without a company plan to cover you at least partly): pricey, a lot of paperwork and complicated. Worse, there are places to help you with payment plans, and some docs are kind about docking off a percentage if you have no insurance, but mostly you are on your own - there no CPA's of the medical bill world.

So you can understand why, in the six years I've been self-employed, I have put off my terribly complicated taxes until (usually) the last minute, and I haven't been to a dentist for the same amount of time, though I had a (relatively) nice experience the last time I went and got work done. In fact, I wrote about it here. And here's another nice wise writing from that same era, this time about getting a lot of expensive and difficult chiropractic care with no insurance. Besides the normal discomfort of dentist (even with meditation practice), there's the payment factor; besides the normal dread of taxes (quite an old human habit) there's all that extra work.

This year, I did my taxes in medium time - not last minute but not first thing. I waited for just the right day, and today was it. Why?
Because I finally went to the dentist today for the first time since that blog entry I linked to above. Why?
Because Groupon made it cheap and easy to go to a fun west-sider dentist, with massaging chairs and nice quiet dental assistants, and get the cleaning done. The Groupon was for half-off, so a $120 cleaning cost $60. It was such a steal I got one for Dylan, too, who hadn't been in forever (let's just say, much longer than me).

"You have the nicest teeth I will see all day," the dental hygenisist said. I didn't tell her it had been five years - the clerk had written in "a couple of years" when I had answered vaguely that it had been "a few years." Regardless of this compliment, the cleaning was awkward - I have a very small mouth (she gave me a toothbrush for a teenager) and tight neck, and no matter how nice my teeth looked, I did need quite a bit of cleaning. I breathed as much as I could, though, reminding myself of what I learned the last time. I would notice my hands or neck or shoulders tensing and I would consciously, deeply, breathe out. It helped - I still feel sore now, but it made of pain a lot less suffering. I was so inspired after the cleaning - fresh haircut yesterday, clean teeth - that I came right home and started doing the taxes, which I had dreaded.

Let me tell you - and me - let me tell us something about dread. I am sure you already know this, as do I, but apparently it bears repeating, because none of us have stopped doing it.
Dread sucks.
Dread is lame.
Dread only makes things worse. Dread is, in fact, concentrated suffering, and we do it to ourselves.

Lately I have experimented with doing the thing I dread the most, first (obviously, with taxes and dentist examples above, this is a practice and not perfection) - because I have finally caught on that when I do not do something very important or overwhelming, it gets far worse with procrastination. AND I feel as if I have gotten nothing done in the interrim, not matter how many other work details/errands/tasks/appointments/classes/writings/emails/nose pickings I do.

So I encourage *you* to pick one thing - big or small. I recommend dentist or taxes, if you are overdue on either of those, but smaller is ok, too. No matter how much you have been dreading it (and now I get to go to another dread thing - wrangling with Delta to get the right price for our trip to London this August), see how it feels to just do it, or start doing it. Pull through it.
Notice - the relief when it is done, and if it was, in fact, worse than you had blown it up to be.

Rinse and repeat - the way we learn - do it and do it again, and if we notice the results, once and awhile a habit breaks, and we can be just that much more free. This is, I am quite certain, the true definition of Liberty, though I am not sure that Ben Franklin would agree.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What About Me?

Please watch this two minute video first.

I have returned from my two and a half week secular Buddhist seminary retreat, where I spent half of each day sitting in silence and half of it studying in not silence with 50 other Buddhists. Guided by two senior teachers Acharyas Bower and Greenleaf (Acharyas - "teacher" in Sanskrit, considered in Shambhala to be next to the Sakyong in the hierarchy - Pema Chodron is an acharya, for instance) in our tradition, and a bevy of cooks, meditation instructors and coordinators, it's been a bit rough to come out of such a sacred container back into every day life.

Especially because instead of it taking me 8 hours to get home, it took me 36.

The weather between Madison and Burlington wasn't pretty. The airlines were taken unawares, and so were many travelers - naively, I arrived at Burlington not having checked any of the forecasts for anywhere west of where I was, and Burlington looked fine and clear. I was tired, having been gone and somewhat sick for over two weeks, and I arrived to find the second leg of my trip, Detroit to Madison, had already been canceled, and the first leg was on the block for potential cancellation. People were outraged, hopping up and down mad, wanting the poor clerks who saw a long night ahead of them to fix it for them. I cried, not to "get" anything, but spontaneously, from exhaustion, and took it aside so that no one had to see but me and poor Dylan on the other end of my call, also crying. By the time they canceled the flight, hours later, I was doing tonglen for the clerks working for Delta and for all those around me, and myself.

After a good night's sleep, I went to the airport expecting nothing, and this made all the difference. When I was told my first flight had technical difficulties, I laughed. Two women around my age sitting near me, both looking on the edge of deciding whether to cry or yell, joined me half-heartedly, then fully. The irony of combined technical error and weather between us and our destinations (one going to Florida, one, like me, to Madison) became absurd, and these two and I developed a tight bond, convinced the only way to survive was not to take it personally. Over the next twelve hours, this attitude literally saved us, for we boarded our flight no less than three times, only to have to get off twice due to doubts about the ability of the plane to fly, not to mention conditions at Detroit. When others had given up, blown a gasket (which got them nothing, but in one case, an arrest) or paid hundreds of dollars for a flight on a competing airline, we were eating Twizzlers and giggling and talking about photography.

This morning, home with Dylan and reading the New Yorker, a line from an article about the Kabul Bank struck me in the chest:
"Salehi, like so many of those who occupy high positions in Karzai's government, appears to harbor no ideology other than his own survival."

A story that Acharya Bower told, of her position helping the Sakyong to edit Turning the Mind Into an Ally (which is a fabulous beginner book on meditation, by the way), came to mind. She spoke of working for him, ostensibly concerned for the success of the book, for the Sakyong himself, but one day realizing she was only concerned about saving her own neck. The Sakyong had just made a video and song about this belief we all base every moment of our lives on: What About Me? and she had to realize she was disguising her own self interests under a seeming support of him. What About Me? was wearing the mask of "What About Him?"

Our desire, our desperate need, to make sure we live under all costs, to make sure our habits continue (even as small as coffee in the morning and chewing our fingernails) because we believe them to be directly related to our survival, in cases far less risky than Salehi's, hit me upside the head in the airport over those two days. Every time something went wrong, the people who were suffering the most took it personally. The people who realized it wasn't about them laughed, cried or moved on. This isn't an issue of those who had it easiest - one woman was trying to get to her chemo appointment, another to her all-alone daughter in the Orlando airport. Someone, just like me, trying to get home or go on vacation, without a time crunch, would be just as likely to swear at an official as someone who actually had a crisis on their hands.

My brother Alex once told me that trying to break our own habits (in this case, the habit of assuming it is all about us and feeling justified in getting it all fixed for us, not just justified, but terrified that if it doesn't get fixed, we will die or it indicts us in some way) is like trying to break our own bones. When I read the quote from the New Yorker to Dylan this morning and brought up this idea, Dylan smiled and stated that sometimes it is "less dramatic" than that - that trying to break our own habits can be like trying to squeeze something large through a small space - tiny gestures, long time, seemingly no progress. We give up, thinking there should be a big boom or sign of progress - even breaking bones would be a better sign. And then, quite suddenly, though it took a long time to get there - we are out the other end of the tube, and suddenly, we don't take it so personally any more.

I hope this perspective lasts. I will do my best to practice every day in as many ways as I can, asking myself, asking others to ask themselves: is it really personal? Contemplating my actions, the results of my actions, the causes of those actions acted upon me - the only way to see clearly, the only way to laugh in the face of adversity. Like an image from the dharma texts I studied so thoroughly the last few weeks - when drowning, remember that we survive by relaxing, not by thrashing. Thrash and we will die. Relax and we will survive.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


Today I participated in a Restorative Yoga workshop. Our teacher emphasized inversions, to get the blood going back through our system. Since I am going back to Vermont this Friday, and with the inversions, this poem that I wrote comes to mind, which went onto a friend's art piece in Vermont five years ago.

Branches Beneath

I am

roots up,


skirt of earth,

wind dispersing

cloud feet.

Show me

your ankles


from under

heavy weight

skin bark.

Watch water

return to sky source,

tears rising

from toes,




Letting things turn upside down, mix around, in life right now. Fascinating and frightening.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Papa Terma

For many many years, I waited for it, longed for it, imagined it.
A letter, a note, a picture with words; some kind of written confirmation.
Something from my father, who died when I was 12, saying that he loved me
missed me
would miss me
wished me well
with some words of wisdom and gentleness to guide me through the rest of my life
without him.

After searching through banker's box after banker's box, piles of economic journals, graded computer programming papers, receipts copied again and again, after years and years of secretly and not-so-secretly searching, hoping some time in the four years he was sick he thought to write to me, hoping somewhere in all the detritus of our now-sold childhood home, I would find IT. And I would know that was IT - THE letter, THE note, THE missive, THE missing piece.

I never did. Nothing for me, for either of my brothers.
"You should be glad you had a father than loved you" my mother would say on days when she was competitive over grief with me. The implication was at least when I had him he was great, even if I no longer had him in any way. Not many memories, and no notes, persay, not even to me when he was alive from him alive. Much less from him then alive now dead to me alive.

A couple of months ago I finally wrote myself that note. The feeling was one of finding the text in myself - the message mostly derived from Hakomi therapy, asking my inner voices what I need at a fundamental level - the text oriented around being gentle with myself, having perspective for all of life, and not working too hard - basically "do as I say not as I did." The message wasn't from him them, it was from him now - my dead father, as if he has grown this whole time alongside me, and seen how wrong he was in overworking, wrong he was in not being present to much in my life or my family's life, and how much he wanted to make sure I don't make the same mistakes.

For if my father were still alive I am pretty certain he wouldn't be able to see that. My living through his death and long past means I can start to see these things - I think his living through Cancer wouldn't have helped. But who knows. All I know now is that I received it not from me, persay, but from some part of him in me that has been secreted away, grown and opened, and now is blossoming when I need it most.

A Terma. Something buried from him, deep inside his Basic Goodness, his real self, hidden in the mindstream of our genes, coming alive when it is needed most. I am grateful for these teachings on Terma from Tibetan Buddhism - though my literal father would have likely scoffed at them as a skeptic, the inner father who is finally opening, that little voice, deep inside me, he knows it is true. We plant seeds and never know how they will mature, and the way his voice comes to me now, reassuring me I am making the right choices, to in fact do as he is saying now and not as he said or did then, I know he meant the best all along. He never meant to harm. He didn't know better. I can still be angry, and still forgive.

Looking through boxes a few nights ago I found this image of my dad and his mom. No date - I think it must have been just before he got sick. His mom, who was always so gentle and loving with me, was so severe with him (as you can tell in the photo). Ah the irony. He was quite loving with me but also so severe. The tone of the Terma I have received is that of this exact moment - laugh, love, be open. Don't care how you look in a photograph. You are fine. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with you or the world as it is. There are very few photographs of my father, especially later in life, as he was always the photographer, rather than the photographed. So this is a hidden photo, a surprise, as pictures of him always are from this era. And usually, he is not smiling. So a Terma within a Terma. I offer it to you, dear reader, as it was given to me - a quiet gift on a snowy day.

Thursday, January 06, 2011


I often wonder what comes first: the chicken or the egg. How did I land in this beautiful house, with this amazing partner and stunningly meaningful work for which I get paid a living wage? There has been a lot of pain, a lot of confusion, and also a lot of wonder and amazing conclusions.

I often cannot tell which action in my life resulted in where I am or a particular effect. I have been reading a lot about Karma lately in preparation for Seminary and the one thing I am finally getting is that it warns us that things are never as simple as A leading to B, or even A and B leading to C. Causes have supporting causes, conditions, circumstances. Everything is interacting with everything else. So to say "I went to this meditation class and the rest is history" is both a fallacy and has accuracy.

Two things I know for sure, though, that have equally affected me are writing and Buddhism. It comes together often, like today, that the things I learn from one are clearly manifest in the other. Today I am meeting with my editor to talk about my memoir, and editing is no longer as scary to me as it used to be. How can that be? How can I have gone from hating it to looking forward to it, secretly? It's not masochism - I don't look forward to criticism. But I look forward to finding fault so I can rework it into magic.

I feel the exact same way, 99% of the time, now about *myself* - if I have done something unhelpful, unbeneficial to myself or someone else, I want to know about it. I used to hate that, feel that I had been exposed, found out, that I was an imposter of a person who was secretly horrible. Now, it's more of a "Huh. Sorry about that. Now what can I do to make it better?"
I feel almost as if I am in the same place in my life, my meditation practice and my writing, especially right now.

So, I don't much care which came first for the moment. I just care that I am here.